The dos and don'ts of writing your personal statement

Elements of Personal Statements That Annoy Faculty Readers

Faculty readers on selection committees read hundreds of personal statements each year. Unfortunately, this overload causes many readers to dismiss statements that contain errors and overused diction and phrases. To help give your personal statement an edge, we have compiled a list of items to avoid.




  • "Finally finding the specialty you loved by going through all your rotations and what you did not like in each one." You want to sound as positive as possible. This approach may sound as if you inevitably find something negative in every environment.
  • Using examples or stories that are too emotional, graphic, or unpleasant. Even though medicine can be messy, readers may find that you are not using good judgment if you choose to use it or overstate it in a personal statement.
  • Repeating your Curriculum Vitae. Highlight one or two things that clearly support your skills, abilities, or love of your career choice.
  • Claiming that you want to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders after residency unless there is strong evidence of current or past international or selfless charitable work on your CV to back up this statement.
  • Presenting your essay in a chronological format…try to be more creative.
  • Referring to patients as “your” patients. What happened to the rest of the team?
  • Using an example of all the extra time you spent with a patient and an emotional description of how much they appreciated you listening to them and spending time with them.  It is wonderful that students take time to go the extra mile, but be careful that you give the rest of the team credit for their time and effort. Also, be aware (and/or let your reader know you are aware) that because your attending and residents are so busy with teaching, patient care and research, they do not have as much time to spend with patients.
  • Using patient names or identifiers in your essay. Patient identities are always respected and the lack of awareness of that simplest of hospital rules is an indication of your readiness for working in the hospital environment and how much “babysitting” you will need.
  • Overstating your participation in a research project or volunteer activity when a phone call explains otherwise or a look at your CV says you spent one day at the volunteer center.
  • Using flattering adjectives to describe yourself in your essay. Let your letters of recommendation do that for you or let your energy and enthusiasm come through in how you write and what you write about. If you are a compassionate healer, it will come through in your essay.
  • Giving excuses for not doing well in a course or on a USMLE exam. If you have a blemish on your record, keep it short and to the point. Say what you did to remedy the problem and that you have progressed through your curriculum without further problems. Many administrators suggest not addressing problems in your personal statement at all. There is a section in ERAS for addressing absences or problems in your medical education (see pages 15, 16 of the ERAS 2012 worksheet) that have affected your application.
  • Having too much story and not enough about your abilities and skills (weave relevant skills into your story).
  • Telling the faculty reader what is important about their specialty.
  • Hearing the wrong message when faculty or residents recommend that you just submit a unique essay that makes you stand out. The risky “unique” essay may make you stand out for the wrong reasons. The essay should still be about you and make you stand out because it is interesting, mature, intelligent, and professional.
If you have gotten feedback from faculty that could help others in their quest to write exceptional personal statements, please offer up your suggestions here, especially if you have heard of personal statement aspects that they find particularly irritating that we should avoid.

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  1. Things to Think About When Getting Started on Your Personal Statement | Doctors In Training -

    [...] Hello, Senior medical students. It’s time to get started writing your personal statements for your ERAS application. ERAS opens September 15th this year, and it takes several weeks to write and perfect your personal statement; so let’s get started now. It differs from your medical school admissions essay: The first thing to know is that personal statements for residency differ in several ways from your admission essay for medical school. Students rarely can adapt their medical school admissions essay for residency application. Your purpose in this essay is not to express why you want to be a physician, but, rather, why you are choosing the specialty to which you are applying. Write like a mature professional in your chosen specialty: The language in this essay should be more mature than your medical school admissions essay. You are older now and have an additional three years of intense training under your belt. Hopefully, you will be able to converse on a professional level equal to an entering intern and able to use the language of the specialty to which you are applying. Be creative, but with restraint: It is also your opportunity to show the residency commmitte a bit of your personality through what you choose to write about and how you present your material. However, it is not time to be overly creative. In a medical school application, you had great leeway express yourself. For your residency application, your creativity should be limited and the boundaries for theme are narrower. Through your clerkships, volunteer experiences, and research involvement, you should have ample examples and vignettes to describe why you are choosing your specialty. It is time to show the residency committee the characteristics that match your specialty through how you describe your experiences. If you are going into anesthesiology, be sure to emphasize the attention to detail and love of physiology and pharmacology evident in your examples or vignettes. If surgery is your specialty of choice, you might want to include stories that show your interest in leading groups, working with your hands, loving being in the OR, and interest in anatomy. Know what to focus on: The personal statement for residency should focus on your abilities, passion for the specialty, and interests. It should avoid discussing dislike of other specialties: this is unprofessional, sets a negative tone, and wastes space. Residency committees are looking for applicants that are positive, easy to work with, and appreciate what other specialties have to offer. Spend your space talking about positive experiences and what makes you that special applicant. Create a memorable positive image: Your personal statement should create an image of you such that an adjective or noun can be attached. While of course you would like for the selection committee to remember your name, often they will first remember an applicant by something memorable within your background. Therefore, your personal statement may be the piece of your application that creates your moniker for the committee. You may become “the mountain climber,” “the chef,” “the volunteer queen,” “the one that hiked the Applachian Trail,” “the dengue fever applicant.” You would like for your essay to do that for you. However, you do not want a negative or controversial image. As soon as a reader begins your essay, he or she begins forming a mental image of the author. If you begin your essay with an example from childhood, quickly move that child forward to a mature, intelligent adult so the faculty member can easily see you as a strong viable candidate. Formatting your personal statement: Similar to your medical school admissions essay, you should: •Limit your residency personal statement to one page, or just a few lines over. •Use 11 or 12 font in Garamond, Arial, or Times New Roman. •Indent 7 spaces at the beginning of each to separate them instead of spacing between paragraphs. This will give you an additional 4-5 lines for expression. •Make sure your essay is an entire page. You do not want your personal statement to indicate that you were not interested in your application. Editing your personal statement: Your personal statement will—and should—go through several edits before it is ready to submit to ERAS, and it will have undergone edits from faculty, deans, and professional editors. It is perfectly fine to get feedback from professional editing services; however, be aware that allowing a service or another person to write your personal statement for you is falsifying your application. Programs will not take this lightly, so always make sure that your essay is your own creation. Go to our other posts for more information on personal statements. Creating Your Personal Statement Elements of Personal Statements That Annoy Faculty Readers [...]

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